Since the pandemic work has been carried out on a dozen tunnels along the AP-7 motorway. SUR
Costa del Sol AP-7 motorway: the first road of its kind in Spain to comply with strict EU safety standards
Road network

Costa del Sol AP-7 motorway: the first road of its kind in Spain to comply with strict EU safety standards

The Autopista del Sol has 10 tunnels along its 105-kilometre route which runs between Malaga, Marbella, Estepona and Guadiaro

Chus Heredia


Monday, 27 May 2024, 10:07

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Last Thursday saw the start of the election campaign in Spain for the European Parliament, an event that usually has a low voter turnout despite the fact that many EU decisions closely affect a wide range of areas. Road tunnels are a case in point. In recent months the number of publicly-funded contracts has multiplied. One only has to pull out some back issues of press reports on this subject or view one of the info boards placed at every tunnel entrance announcing the work. The first road in Spain to roll up its sleeves and get on with the task is in Malaga province: the Costa del Sol motorway.

Europe has tightened up on its requirements for the continental motorway network, especially in terms of safety. For that very reason the Autopista del Sol management company Ausol has worked on the ten tunnels along the entire AP-7 motorway with an investment of more than 30 million euros. The road, which runs between Malaga, Marbella, Estepona and Guadiaro has become the first road of its kind in Spain to adapt all its tunnels to the strict EU road safety regulations.

The tunnel work, which has lasted four years as work began during the pandemic, has meant the largest financial outlay by Ausol since the construction of the motorway. The added complexity is that all work had to be carried out while the motorway was still in operation.

105 kilometres of road

The Autopista del Sol has 10 tunnels along its 105-kilometre route which have been adapted to the safety requirements established by Royal Decree 635/2006 and European Directive (2004/54/CE).

Every tunnel has a unique name. In the Malaga-Estepona section, the existing tunnels are called Montemayor, La Quinta, Río Verde, Nagüeles, Santa María I and Calahonda. On the Estepona-Guadiaro section we have Estepona, Corominas, Santa María II and Casares.

Making the necessary safety changes have involved, firstly, the deployment of a new fire-resistant electrical installation to guarantee the operation of critical systems in the event of fire in the tunnel. The installation of ventilation systems has also been strengthened to improve conditions in the tunnel and to kick into action in the event of a high concentration of polluting gases or fire.

In the same vein, more sensors have been installed to measure any concentrations of polluting gases (CO2 and NO), opacity and air speed both inside and outside the tunnel with the aim of optimising ventilation strategies specific to that tunnel. Linear heat detection systems that identify fires have also been improved and a public address system has been installed to broadcast messages to drivers in the event of an incident.

Another of the AP-7 tunnels under repair.
Another of the AP-7 tunnels under repair. SUR

Another key element of the project has been the implementation of an Automatic Incident Detection (AID) telematic system using CCTV cameras in the tunnels. In addition, new variable signalling equipment has been deployed to warn drivers of any incident, as well as access barriers to all tunnels so tunnels can be closed in the event of an emergency. Finally, the SOS-call points have had the technology improved and a special drainage system for any toxic liquid spillages has been installed.

"These improvement works have meant an important effort for the management team due to the extent of the work undertaken, which significantly improves the safety guarantees for our users; we are at the forefront of road safety in Spain", says Juan Marchini, general manager at Ausol.

"We have achieved a significant increase and improvement in the safety equipment in our 10 tunnels, which are the first to be adapted to the European directive (2004/54/EC), guaranteeing faster and more efficient management of actions to be taken in the event of incidents or accidents," he adds.

26 million euros spent on Malaga's tunnels but unfinished

One of the last contracts to be formally signed in Malaga province by the Ministry of Transport, using EU Next Generation funds, budgeted for 4.5 million euros to incorporate, for example, emergency doors, new lighting, public address systems, cabling, ventilation, information panels, anti-fire systems, barriers or traffic lights for opening and closing lanes in five more tunnels: the four near Casabermeja on the A-45 and the false tunnel of Carlos Haya on the West ring road in Malaga city.

In Casabermeja, the wiring of the security equipment will be replaced and fire-resistant wiring will be installed. The work will also include a network of emergency (SOS) call points with telephone and fire extinguisher. In addition, all systems installed or upgraded in the Casabermeja tunnels will feed into the Cerrado de Calderón Control Centre.

Other improvements include gauge control, new road markings, safer pedestrian walkways, new signposting and, as in the case of the MA-20, re-painting and asphalting.

The Spanish government has also been awarded 7.5 million euros for improvement work in San José and Cerrado de Calderón. Other work will be carried out in Churriana (the 'hiperronda' - Malaga's version of Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham), San Pedro Alcántara and Capistrano crossroads, Tablazo, Frigiliana, Lagos and Torrox, along the dual carriageway heading east out of Malaga, for a total amount of 26 million euros.

The Ministry's plan has an overall budget of 357 million euros for public main roads across Spain, financed by the aforementioned EU Next Generation.

Spain's general road network has some 200 structures of this type that are being adapted to European regulations, or that will have to be adapted pretty soon. Of these, 160 are on roads managed directly by the Ministry of Transport, the other 40 on toll motorways. The ten tunnels belonging to the Autopista de la Costa del Sol, managed by Ausol, were the first to be fully adapted.

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